Demand for fish in Britain increased in the first 30 years of the 20th century. Due to technological change, and particularly the development of the steam trawler, British fishing boats operated further afield and in greater numbers. By the 1890s, British trawlers were operating in Icelandic waters and by the 1920s, had gone much further north to Bear Island. North Sea stock was in decline by the inter-war period and distant-water fishing was increasingly important. In 1929, the government began to survey fishing grounds around Bear Island, where it was believed there was an unlimited supply of fish.
By the early 1930s, the industry was plagued with problems. As prices declined, the industry responded by producing more fish, and supply outstripped demand. At this time fisheries and the fishing industry were closely scrutinised by the government. A number of official reports led to the Sea Fishing Industry Act of 1933 and the establishment of the Sea Fisheries Commission, who investigated all aspects of the industry. The act restricted distant water catches in the summer and introduced regulations to control capturing immature fish.
After the Second World War, it became apparent that British fisheries would face increasing international competition. The USSR posed a threat as they were in the process of developing a large fleet. The Cabinet considered various schemes for reorganising the industry and increasing its efficiency.
The depleted fishing fleet was in need of extensive refurbishment and replacement. The interruption of fishing during the war had led to bigger stocks of fish in the North Sea but, by 1947, catches were again in decline. Furthermore, the post-war boom of fish prices collapsed in November 1949, leaving the industry in dire straits. The government responded by creating the White Fish Authority to administer grants and loans to near and middle-water fleets.